Title: Opening of the American Exhibition

Periodical: Daily News

Date: May 10, 1887

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There seemed to be no end to the carriages driving up to the entrance of the Exhibition between two and four o'clock yesterday afternoon, and the crowds in the streets were thousands strong. Inside there were throngs of ladies and gentlemen, turn which way one would. The Exhibition building showed no signs of incompleteness, much less disorder, though, as was pointed out in yesterday's paper, the exhibits as a whole are unfinished. The most, however, had been made of the materials at hand, and a very bright and pretty show was the result. The grounds on the western side are extremely pleasant, many old fruit and other trees, remnants probably of a defunct market garden, giving an air of ripeness to the landscape. An abundance of chairs here invited the visitors to enjoy the lovely May day, with only the fleecy sky for a roof; and the damsels belonging to Bertram and Company's army corps flitted from buffet to bar, and from bar to buffet, bright as butterflies with star-spangled banners for aprons. One of the documents early placed in our hands was an almanac of American drinks, in which the refreshment contractors had entered a special concoction for every day of the year except Sundays, "Exhibition Bosom Caresser" being the fixture for May 9. In the saloon, which is ornamented with a magnificent collection of heads, horns, and bodies of beasts of the chase, a special set of guests partook of luncheon. The opening ceremony, however, took place in the main avenue of the Exhibition, in presence of an audience that stretched right and left, and to the furthermost bounds opposite, far beyond the reach of the strongest voice. The Grenadier Guards' band began the programme with "Hail Columbia," and a prayer was read by Archdeacon Farrar, with a peroration "to be repeated by all present." Then the band played "God Save the Queen," and this was succeeded by an era of speech-making. The first innings fell to the lot of Lord Ronald Gower, who, on behalf of the council, spoke a capital piece of welcome to the American guests. The council he represented, he explained, consists of about 1,500 leading Englishmen in different walks of life, all animated by strong feelings of regard for America and the Americans. Amidst loud cheering he expressed a hope that this Exhibition might be a bond of amity between England and America. To Lord Ronald's neatly turned sentences Colonel H. S. Russell, president of the Exhibition, briefly and heartily responded, concluding his remarks by declaring the Exhibition open. The next item on the programme was a magnificent singing of the "Star-spangled Banner" and "Rule Britannia" by Madame Nordica. The vast audience had been enthusiastic throughout, but they went into positive raptures over the inspiriting vocalism of the prima donna. But there was another speech yet due, and when the applause ceased, Mr. John R. Whitley, the director-general of the Exhibition, delivered an address, tracing the history, and describing the nature of this, the first, exclusively American exhibition held beyond the territory of the great Republic. He stated that as the season advanced the promoters hoped to add still further to the usefulness and attractiveness of the Exhibition. The Grenadiers supplemented this address with "Dixie"; Colonel Russell started the machinery in the main building; and, finally, the audience were treated to a rousing performance of the famous anthem "Yankee Doodle," preliminary to, and, if the truth must be told, during a grand rush over the bridge to the "Wild West."

There was no finer or more remarkable sight during the day than the crowded grand stand. Our readers have been already informed that it can accommodate, sitting and standing, more than 20,000 persons. It was now packed from end to end, and from circling barrier to the topmost seat of the amphitheatre. So many people in such serried array were never before seen under one roof in this country. Rank and fashion filled the private boxes; eminent journalists, artists, authors, actors and actresses were scattered about, plentiful as blackberries. Beyond the huge "track" encircled by a broad margin of tan, the scene painter had provided graphic sketches of mountain and cañon, as a most effective background, the exits and entrances of the performers being cunningly wrought clefts in the rocky passes. Mr. Levy's cornet heralded action with "The Star-spangled Banner," and from a rostrum in the arena Mr. Frank Richmond, who is the orator of the show, welcomed the assembly in the name of the proprietors, the Hon. W. F. Cody and Mr. Nate Salisbury. This gentleman explained the scenes as they were enacted with stentorian eloquence. Very soon the arena was alive with squadrons of Red Indians, who galloped in, each tribe with its chief conspicuously detached. One lost the names of the individual celebrities as announced, and the programme did not furnish them; but who could doubt that they were braves of the first water? The opera-glasses of the pale-face squaws in the amphitheatre were curiously concentrated upon the Indian girls riding all astride. "Red Shirt," the eminent chief who smoked the pipe of peace (metaphorically) with Mr. Gladstone, and took the cigarettes (literally) of the Prince of Wales, made a slashing entry, hands and head down over the mane of his swift mustang. But a hideous railway engine drowned the eulogy which Orator Richmond was letting off at the appropriate moment. Last of the grand entrée was the "boss" of the Company—handsome Buffalo Bill—on a choice fleabitten grey, of which, with his splendid seat, he seemed part and parcel. The broad-brimmed hats, breeches, boots, and belts of the Mexicans and cowboys; the painted warriors, clad in robes, skins, and feathers of pronounced colours; and the wiry little horses, not much to look at, but demons to go, made up a striking spectacle, truly novel to an English eye. The Red Indians greeted their leader, Buffalo Bill, with piercing shrieks. Thereafter their voices were often raised in mimic anger or joy, but it was always the same shrill falsetto, with never a hint of bass in the shout. We should not omit to mention that in the preliminary parade figured Sergeant Bates, who, years gone by, tramped through this country (and some few others) with the flag of the Union over his shoulder.

There were nineteen entries on the programme, and it took two hours to get through with them. Some lively racing came off between a cowboy, Mexican, and Indian on ponies. The Indian rides without a saddle, with his knees well forward and his heels well back, apparently glued to his broncho, save when circumstances require him to cast himself loose, and then he appears to hold on by an infinitesimal amount of leg or foot. The first big business was the attack on an emigrant train by Indians, and its defense by frontiersmen. There was plenty of galloping and discharge of firearms, with horses and men, as if wounded or killed, lying on the ground, the women simulating despair, terror, and so forth, in a very taking fashion in rear of the tented waggons. To take the taste of the gunpowder out of our mouths some Western girls and cowboys went through a graceful movement, called a Virginia reel, on horseback. Marvellous feats with glass balls and other objects were done by Miss Anne Oakley with her "wing shooting," and Miss Lillian Smith "the Californian girl," with the rifle. Several races followed, and some fancy riding by men, boys, and girls. A comic interlude was supplied by the picturesque cowboys, who threw the lasso, picked hats from the ground while riding at full speed, and allowed themselves to be tossed and "chucked" by bucking and jumping steeds and steers. The "Phases of Indian Life" introduced the tribes of Indians in their war paint. Some of them had little else about them except paint; but the yellow, or blue, or black and blue pigments took the edge off an effect which might otherwise have shocked the anti-nudists of modern times. As a matter of fact, most people would have to be told that these dancing, whooping, be-feathered Indians grouped around near the barrier were seven-eighths naked. This was probably why no ladies were seen to turn their heads aside, or retire behind their fans. The attack on the primitive old Deadwood coach by Indians, and repulse by scouts and cowboys, commanded by Buffalo Bull, was the pièce de résistance of the Wild West Show; and next in dramatic action and sustained excitement was the attack by crawling and riding Indians upon a settler's log cabin. Both scenes were very realistic, and the men and horses who took the parts of the killed and wounded deserved an encore, awkward though the compliment might have been. Buffalo Bill made some superb shots at glass balls while riding at a gallop. A number of buffaloes and deer obliged us by cantering around, to show how they are shot from the saddle with pistol and rifle; and at the close there was a general salute by all the characters, and loud and prolonged cheering from the spectators.